129 individuals have been indicted in one of the largest grand jury indictments in Orange County’s history. Historically synonymous with beautiful beaches and laid back atmosphere, Orange County has become a hot bed for gang activity. Santa Ana, one of the largest cities in the county, was a main target in a joint operation conducted by the IRS, Santa Ana Police, Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a wide variety of different charges that paint a picture of mafia-like crimes committed by organized gangs.
The joint bust, known as Operation Smoking Aces, involved about 800 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and resulted in the seizure of more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. In addition, undercover officers were allegedly able to purchase more than 50 firearms, including 29 rifles and 38 handguns from some of those indicted.
Orange County Mexican Gangs Exposed
Many of those currently living in Orange County are blissfully unaware of the large Mexican gangs and mafia-like organizations that have been growing steadily stronger over the last few years. These gangs are not running small-time drug and violence operations. According to reports, these gangs are responsible for large-scale criminal activities that include drug-dealing, murder, extortion, racketeering and several other offenses.
Operation Smokin Aces was specifically targeting the Mexican Mafia operating on the streets of Orange County and throughout Southern California Jails. Authorities allege that their agents were able to intercept communications that described a laundry list of criminal offenses, including orders by top-level crime figures to conduct beatings and instructions regarding the arrival of drug shipments through complex schemes.
The investigation, which began in 2010, focused on southeast Santa Ana, California, an area of Orange County that has witnessed a large number of gang-related crimes over the past few years. Once officials uncovered ties between Santa Ana criminal activity, the Prison Gang, and narcotic suppliers, the investigation widened.
According to reports, “The Prison Gang” is a criminal organization that has influence over Southern California Hispanics on the streets and throughout the jail and prison system. Street members are ordered to pay drug sale taxes and prove their loyalty to remain in good standings with those in charge.
In addition to drug and firearm charges, those indicted face several violent crime offenses including attempted murder, aggravated assault, and conspiracy to commit assault in order to collect unpaid debts. Instances in which gang members allegedly struck out to secure payments of unpaid debts include a member’s failure to pay his “taxes”, violation of gang rules and more.
Prison Gang Statistics
Prison gangs have created controlling criminal enterprises in California jails and prisons for several decades. Although they originated within the penal system and operate throughout United States correctional facilities, their influence is not limited by the walls that contain them. Through complex schemes, high-level gang members are sometimes able to conduct their criminal organizations from correctional institutions.
According to the FBI, there are nearly one and a half million active gang members that make up more than 30,000 gangs spread throughout the United States. Currently, violent crimes are believed to be committed by gang members 48% of the time in the majority of jurisdictions, but can reach 90% in others. Aggressive recruiting, technology advancements, and drug trafficking are believed to be main contributors to the expansion of gangs in the United States and could continue to fund these organizations for years to come.
Penalties for Gang Activity in California
Those arrested as a result of Operation Smoking Aces could be facing minor misdemeanor charges or multiple felony counts. California defendants may face additional charges when their crimes are associated with gang activity. Penal Code 186.22 makes it a felony to assist in gang member criminal activity and creates mandatory minimum sentencing that are in addition to the penalties a defendant receives for their underlying offense. The following are some of the crimes for which those involved may be charged with as well as the maximum penalties that they may face.
Felony Attempted Murder
- Those found guilty of felony attempted murder in California can be ordered to serve a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Felony Assault with Force Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury
- A guilty verdict can result in four years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and a strike on the defendant’s criminal record. If a firearm was used, the penalties are increased.
Federal Drug Trafficking
- A conviction for federal drug trafficking can result in a prison sentence of no less than five years and a fine of five million dollars.
Gang Activity Criminal Defense
Those facing charges for gang-related activity in Orange County are encouraged to contact our law offices for a free case evaluation. A skilled OC defense attorney will be able to use the evidence that prosecutors plan to use against you for your defense, and may be able to expose important flaws in the prosecution’s case. Call 949-250-6097 to speak with one of our California legal professionals and receive a free case evaluation.